iPadOS and the Magic Keyboard: Multitasking is still very limited

I’m just starting to write using Apple’s Magic Keyboard for iPad. I like the feel and writing seems to be a joy so far. But I’m still running into issues with iPadOS 14, that have already been there in iPadOS 13 and earlier. First and foremost, at least for me, is the bad experience when trying to use multitasking – even now, having a mouse cursor that could potentially be useed to support you.

It’s really bad when trying to navigate multiple text fields between apps. Trying to get the right app – and thus the right input field – to get focus sometimes seems impossible. The only thing that always works is closing the app you don’t to have focus. I had hoped this ordeal would be improved at least a bit after being able to use a mouse cursor.

Here’s one example. You’re using an app that requires you to enter a login, password and a 2FA code. Let’s say you get the first two login credentials from iCloud Keychain while the 2FA code is in some other app like 1Password or Authy. You get through the login procedure, but need said 2FA code. So you load 1Password in slide-over or split-screen to just copy that code. 1Password gets the focus and you just tap the code to copy it.

After that you position your mouse cursor over on the input field on the other app to paste it. You tap your trackpad to activate the cursor there, thinking the app got active, you hit cmd+v because your hands are already on the keyboard and nothing happens. Why? Because the other app never got the focus. The only hint that something’s wrong is the little pill shaped indicator at the top of the app window. At least Apple added this not too long ago. Before you had absolutely no idea what was going on and had no indication of what app was really active – aside from starting to type and hoping for the best.

However, just having that indicator isn’t enough. It’s still a horrible experience because, as I’ve just described, multitasking just doesn’t work as one might expect. One alternative way to successfully insert your 2FA code is tapping the field on the screen, waiting for a bit for a pop-up window to come up and then select Paste. You can also – as mentioned before – swipe away 1Password, basically exiting multitasking to force focus on the app where you want to paste your code. The thing is, all of these ways should work.

It’s not just copy and paste either. Sometimes you just want to use two apps side-by-side, for whatever reason. Well, good luck if the active app it isn’t the one you want to write something in.

We will soon arrive at iPadOS 14/iOS 14. We have nice hardware including an official, very expensive keyboard and trackpad combination – like this Magic Keyboard in front of me right now. Yet, the software is unable to do some seemingly very basic things that haven’t been issues on other platforms for ages. Trying to use a keyboard and trackpad to make an app the active app shouldn’t require some magic spell (that I’m currently unaware of). At the very least “tapping into an app” should take care of that, but it isn’t.

This lack of fully functional multitasking is still driving me back to my Mac every day. I love the simplicity of writing on my iPad. Especially because I don’t get distracted by other apps as easily. But unfortunately for me personally I can’t just write in a silo and be done with it. These words have to get pasted to sometimes multiple places before they actually end up at their final resting place.

This means it doesn’t only apply while having to login to websites or apps, but potentially any workflow that requires copy and paste between apps. Simple things like this make you feel like nobody at Apple, who’s actively developing iPadOS, is actually using iPadOS’ full feature set. I’d like to use my iPad more but these things are just annoying and should’ve been fixed a long time ago.

Apple Watch after five years: How long I’ve been wearing it every day

Five years ago – on April 24, 2015 – Apple released its first smartwatch: Apple Watch. After presenting it in September 2014, during the reveal of iPhone 6, Apple started taking pre-orders on April 10, 2015; two weeks ahead of shipping them. Due to international travel, jetlag and, well, sleep on that very day I wasn’t able to get an early model back then and had to wait a couple of weeks until I finally got my hands on mine.

Just like David Smith I was wondering how long I’ve been wearing my Apple Watch since then. Unfortunately I lost some of my health data while moving iPhones in September 2015. So the early days of wearing my Apple Watch models over the years have been lost forever. Thankfully David made the source code for his app that uses HealthKit information stored on your iPhone available publicly. You’ll need Xcode and a developer account to run it on your iPhone.

Diagram showing how much I've worn Apple Watch over the past years

As I mentioned above, I don’t have the full five years of data available to me. This means my dataset starts on September 26th, 2015. As you can see, for the first few months I’ve been charging my Watch during the night, before starting to track my sleep in January 2017 using various apps over the years. For the past year, Sleep Watch has been taking care of this and I usually don’t have to do anything to start or end tracking. (I’m not sure how I lost some more information during July 2017, but apparently it’s gone; roughly 20 days are missing.)

Based on the first date of availability, April 24, 2015, I’ve been wearing my Watch for 34.735 of 43.886 possible hours. That’s 79,1 percent of the time. Looking at actual available data and me owning the watch for only a part of the total time this goes up to 86,1 percent. I expect this number will continue to grow in the coming months and years as Apple Watch becomes more and more self-contained and independent of an iPhone. Better efficiency will also mean that I don’t have to charge it as often and long. As a result it will be possible to wear it for a longer time every day. I’m also looking forward for Apple to add their own sleep tracking. The current apps are good, but I’m sure Apple will be able to do things in the future that current third party apps can’t.

Over the years I owned the original Apple Watch, Apple Watch Series 3, Series 4 and now Apple Watch Series 5*. Looking at battery life, Apple Watch Series 4 was the best model so far for me. I never quite get the same on-my-wrist-time with Series 5. Even turning off various features, even the always-on-display, didn’t help. I still have to charge it daily for longer than I’d like. Series 4 only needed a full charge every two or three days, while giving it a little bit of juice for a few minutes during the days in between. I do enjoy being able to glance at my Watch to get the current time, I wouldn’t want to miss this.

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OnePlus 7 Pro: 8 months later

Ever since the very first iPhone that I imported from the US to Germany, I’ve been an iPhone person. At the same time, I’ve also been looking across its garden wall and kept using an Android phone. Those phones were usually Nexus devices, my last one – back then – being a Nexus 6P. Back in early July 2019 this phone was starting to have weird hardware issues, aside from not getting updates from Google any longer.

It was time for a new device and while I could have gone for a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3a. But with the Pixel 4 already on the horizon back then I decided to go for a newer device that wasn’t made by Google. I went for the OnePlus 7 Pro* that would get my German SIM but also Google Fi. I knew it wasn’t going to be my primary device.

That said, I keep using the phone on a daily basis – not just to check something for work. I use it regularly to listen to podcasts. Pocket Casts for example is a great way to listen to podcasts and isn’t only available on Android, but also the web and iOS. It’s also an interesting way to compare coverage differences on the same network. Spoiler: while there sometimes were huge differences on, for example, T-Mobile between the OnePlus and iPhone XS Max – the Qualcomm chip in the OnePlus usually having better service – there usually isn’t a huge gap with an iPhone 11 Pro Max and 7 Pro anymore.

The OnePlus 7 Pro also had something my previous XS Max didn’t have: the ultra wide-angle lens. Now, again, the iPhone 11 Pro Max does this as well and usually better than the OnePlus, but it wasn’t an option last July.

The OnePlus also came with some things you didn’t/don’t get being an iPhone user. First off: Warp charging is OnePlus’s version of high speed charging. For this, the 7 Pro comes with a special USB C charger. You can still charge it quickly with a regular USB C PD charger, but it won’t be as fast, even if your charger can supply 30 Watts or more. You will need a OnePlus charger to charge as fast as possible. I hope OnePlus will support fast charging using regular Power Delivery in the future.

Speaking of power: the OnePlus 7 Pro does not support wireless charging in any way. This has its pros, as the back of the device isn’t made from glass and thus is less prone to shattering. Of course you won’t be able to charge it by just laying it down on a Qi charger. You’ll need that cable.

The phone also came with a pre-applied screen protector, although it didn’t last for long. It started to come off and became really annoying to use after a few weeks. I removed it and I still have yet to see any scratches. To protect the screen even further – along with the rest of the phone – the 7 Pro also came with a clear case. I’m using my iPhone without a case but I find the OnePlus just to be too slippery to use without it. Glad it was included.

OnePlus 7 Pro: The almost perfect display

Speaking of the display. It’s a real beauty. Even after months of use it looks like new. Like I mentioned, I have yet to see a scratch – even after being “thrown” into my backpack on a regular basis. The 90 Hz display is great, and I I hope Apple brings 120 Hz to the iPhone this year. One thing I personally love is the lack of any camera or notch in the front. I enjoy having a full screen display thanks to the pop up selfie camera. I could live without that camera completely and be okay. I just don’t take selfies.

What I don’t like about this particular display are the curves along the side. It distorts content ever so slightly which I find distracting to say the least. The in-display fingerprint sensor works okay, although I prefer Face ID – which is a problem on Android and does require some sensors along the display; in a notch or otherwise. I can live with it, although it sometimes needs multiple tries, especially – for some reason – if I’m not using my “primary” finger to unlock it. Overall I find myself entering the PIN on the OnePlus 7 Pro more often than any recent iPhone – be it with Touch ID or Face ID.

Software: Up there but not quite Google

One thing Android devices have a really bad track record of are software updates – unless you’re buying a Pixel of course. OnePlus however seems to be one of the better companies. The update to Android 10 for the OnePlus 7 Pro came quickly, sometimes however the security updates lag by a month or more. To make sure you get the most recent updates, make sure to not rely on the plain over-the-air-updates but use an app like Oxygen Updater. OnePlus rolls out their updates in multiple waves, so if there’s a bug it won’t affect everyone at the same time. This however can result in you having to wait for the OTA to reach your device. Oxygen Updater takes care of that and removes the wait. There’s also a lively beta process taking place, but switching between beta and stable builds – unlike Apple’s beta process – results in wiping your device. So be careful about those open betas.

The changes to OxygenOS, OnePlus’s software build on top of Android, itself aren’t jaw dropping in comparison to plain Android. They add some nice things without turning Google’s base completely upside down. One thing, for example, I’m however missing is a quick toggle for dark mode. It might be somewhere buried in the depths of the settings, but they’re hard to navigate even with the built-in search. The same goes for an automatic dark mode switch based on time of day. Both those features are easily accessible on iOS 13.

One thing I’ve noticed after going from Android 9 to 10 is the shortened battery life. With Android 9 I could use the phone for days. Not using it much – I once managed to go for 7 days. Great if you’re using it for a back up phone. This time has been cut down. My usage of the device varies a lot, partly because I keep turning Google Fi on and off on a regular basis depending on what I’m doing and where I’m going. So it’s hard to say for me how long the battery really lasts under normal circumstances, but I think two days are possible. Add the aforementioned Warp Charger and just top it off in a few minutes.

Speaking of Google Fi: It’s great to be able to turn your cell service on and off with the flip of a virtual switch. I’d love if more carriers were supported, especially under spotty conditions it’d be great to also use AT&T or Verizon. When I’m traveling outside the US, I’m not buying any local SIM cards anymore. Google and, to be fair, T-Mobile US in general make it so easy to just not care about it and only have one number.

OnePlus 7 Pro: An interesting alternative to an iPhone

Overall the OnePlus 7 Pro could be a great full-time alternative to an iPhone for me – the things I’d be missing however are the camera hard- and software of Apple’s device. Photo and video are just much better. The other big (software) thing is iMessage. Google/Android is still lacking a default secure messaging app, that easily works across multiple devices and operating systems. Google keeps on presenting new messaging apps every year, but nothing ever came close to iMessage. And don’t tell me about WhatsApp – it’s owned by Facebook. No, thank you. It’s a pain to use in comparison to Apple’s solution that works seamlessly across iPhone, iPad and Mac.

I’m looking forward to the OnePlus 8 Pro – or whatever they’ll exactly call their new flag ship phone. There are some interesting rumors and I hope to also see 5G in that device. Does Google Fi include access to T-Mobile’s 5G network? Update: Sounds like it does.

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Python 3 in macOS Catalina: Fixing the abort trap

At some point in the beta program of macOS Catalina Homebrew’s python 3 broke and only ended up showing an “Abort trap: 6” for every command that involved using it. This included pip3 and other tools that were previously downloaded and worked as expected.

After a bit of searching I found hints that there was an issue with some OpenSSL libraries. Using the current openssl package, Homebrew has openssl@1.1, there’s a simple fix (exact command might differ once the package gets updated) for the problem:

ln -s /usr/local/Cellar/openssl@1.1/1.1.1d/lib/libcrypto.dylib /usr/local/lib/libcrypto.dylib
ln -s /usr/local/Cellar/openssl@1.1/1.1.1d/lib/libssl.dylib /usr/local/lib/libssl.dylib

This will take care of it until openssl gets updated and the symlinks eventually break. I’m sure I’ll have to get back here to remind myself on how this gets fixed in the future.

One more about iPad apps for shells and ssh

A while ago, almost a year now, I wrote about Terminal for iOS. Now with the iPad Pro 2018 being available — and even before that with the release of the first iOS 12 beta in June — I‘ve started using the tablet more and more again. It also didn‘t help that the display of my MacBook Pro went in for service because of a display discoloration and yet another keyboard issue.

This meant I went out to look for a new ssh client for work. For the past few months I‘ve primarily been using Termius instead of Prompt 2. The main reason is that development of Prompt seems to have been halted for a while and Termius offers a couple of features, for example Mosh support.

At the same time there‘s also been a nice development called iSH, a shell for iOS which allows you to use a growing number of tools that you‘re used to on Linux on your iPhone or iPad. It‘s available as a beta on TestFlight or you can clone it from their GitHub repository.

Waiting for the USB C overlords chargers to arrive

In late October Anker promised the arrival of a couple new USB C chargers, dubbed PowerPort Atom PD 1, Atom PD 2 and Atom PD 4. The first, single port version, was due to arrive in late November but as of now they‘re still nowhere to be found.

They’re about the same size as the blocky 5 Watt charger Apple still likes to ship with every iPhone to date, while Anker’s new Gallium Nitride charger offers 27 Watt and a USB C port. Chargers that offer more than one USB C port are still rare to find, which makes the Atom PD 2 and PD 4 especially interesting to those of us who prefer to travel with only one charger instead of many different ones for smartphone, tablet, watch and notebook. This is what USB C promises but still has to cash in on, because of this lack of chargers.

This lack also shows itself in portable/travel-sized USB C hubs, like the ones we have had with traditional USB for a long time. It’s hard to find a USB C hub, that has one input and — for the sake of argument — say five USB C outputs that you can use to attach your peripherals. For now I‘d take a USB C charger with at least two ports to be able charge my iPad Pro and MacBook Pro with a high-wattage at the same time. It looks like the PD 4 might be a good fit, should it ever arrive.

Oh, and there‘s also this, especially for devices with just one USB C port and nothing else, like the new iPad Pro: Where‘s the USB C dongle that has a headphone jack and a USB C port to charge the device from?

Update 1: There’s a new HyperDrive dongle listed on Kickstarter now.

Update 2: It’s now the end of February 2019 as of writing this update, and there’s still quite a lack of supply for Ankers Atom PD 1, no matter if you use Amazon.com* or Amazon.de* (where it doesn’t show up in the search results at all).

Breaking: Third-Party Twitter-Apps in June August

Once again Twitter is about to do what we’ve come to expect from the company. From Apps of a Feather:

Third-party apps open a network connection to Twitter and receive a continuous stream of updates (hence the name). For push notifications, this connection is done on the developer’s server and used to generate messages that are sent to your devices. For timeline updates, the stream is opened directly on your mobile device or desktop computer.

This streaming connection is being replaced by an Account Activity API. This new infrastructure is based on “webhooks” that Twitter uses to contact your server when there’s activity for an account. But there are problems for app developers…

This change, currently poised to happen after June 19th August 16th, 2018, means two main things: push notifications will no longer arrive and timelines won’t refresh automatically anymore. Currently there’s no way for third-party developers to fix these things. Twitter has yet to give third-party developers access to the new Account Activity API. But even if they should get access in time to fix their applications, things like push notifications will be inherently limited, essentially rendering them useless:

With access we might be able to implement some push notifications, but they would be limited at the standard level to 35 Twitter accounts – our products must deliver notifications to hundreds of thousands of customers.

Using iCloud.com to upload your photos – or why you really shouldn’t even try

I recently found myself in a situation where I had to use iCloud.com to upload photos (and video, but more on that later). I had to use the website, because it wasn’t my data and the person only had a very old Windows PC and no Mac. I figured the iCloud website would be a perfectly viable way to get those files (only around 10 GB in total) into the cloud to be accessible on an iPhone and iPad.

I started my process on the PC (yes, it’s running Windows Vista 🤷‍♂️), trying to use the iCloud application that supposedly allows for automatic upload from a pre-defined if you so choose. That didn’t work once, even for the smallest of JPGs, which may or not be because of the age of said PC and numerous other possible reasons. Also: Debugging something like this on a Windows machine that takes 30+ seconds to open an Explorer window isn’t very high on my „Favorite Things To Do”-list.

After that path was a dead end and I couldn’t (read: didn’t want to) diagnose why, I tried using Chrome and Internet Explorer which gave me repeated errors while trying to upload more than a few files at once. After all it might also be related to Windows, Chrome or IE or any mix of these.

I even tried to copy the files to an SD card and use the Lightning to SD card adapter to re-import photos to the iPhone and iCloud Photos. Just copying files on to the card wasn’t – as I expected – enough. I probably had to create the whole folder structure to make it appear like the files just came from a camera. But that way I wouldn’t get albums or at least make it very hard to recreate them.

So I went to copy the files to a thumb drive, which took ~30 minutes for 10 GB to an otherwise very fast USB stick. After that I copied them to an older 2013 MacBook Pro, only to find out iCloud.com really is a really horrible way to get anything done. The same errors persisted, although not as permanent – sometimes I could get 20 or 30 photos to upload at a time before it would error out. Other times it would just silently fail and while the browser pretended it was still chugging along. It’s not a matter of upload speed, I can get a solid upload of 20+ Mbit/s out of this line.

Also note that the website states that you can add photos and videos. However if you try to upload anything else than a JPG file, it will give you an error. Videos taken with an iOS device fail as well as screenshots created on an iPhone or iPad. I’m not yet sure how I’ll get those files into Photos on the iPhone, I might upload them to iCloud Drive and see if I can add them from there to Photos on the device itself.

My very last resort would be adding a new user to my Mac and use Photos to eventually get everything uploaded. This would mean however adding someone else’s account to my Mac which I’m not sure I – or the other person – feel comfortable with.

This whole process goes to show that moving from a world of Macs or PCs to just iOS devices is still a giant pain. iCloud.com is just horrible. If this was a website managed by Google or Dropbox, I expect completely different results. It would just work. Uploading files to the internet doesn’t require some black magic. It’s just feels painful if a company like Apple isn’t capable to make it work.

Apple could give its Files.app the ability to read thumb drives or – heck – SD cards that didn’t come straight from a camera. Instead, you have to jump through hoops in this brave new „Post-PC world”.

iOS, Bluetooth and car related features

iOS has had various features that relate to using iPhones in cars, like reminders that can trigger when entering or exiting your car. This arrived with iOS 9. Since iOS 10 there are also parking spot reminders to help you find your car. In September, iOS 11 brought you the ability to automatically turn on Do Not Disturb mode on your phone.

The problem with these is: they only work with car stereos that announce themselves as such. If you only have a simple Bluetooth kit that connects to the car via the 3,5 mm AUX input and to the phone via bluetooth, iOS most likely won’t highlight these features.

I’ve personally tried the iClever Himbox HB01* and more recently Anker’s SoundSync Drive*. Both appear to the phone as simple headsets, not a car. As such all of the mentioned features above won’t be surfaced and aren’t accessible to you. I’ve tried contacting iClever and Anker and neither of them actually understood the issue. I haven’t checked again since iOS 11 was released, although I have little hope they actually care.

I understand that Apple tries to cleverly detect if you’re moving around in a car. Android on the other hand for example offers parking reminders even if you don’t connect to any device at all – which may lead to unexpected results, showing you parked at a place even though you arrived at the location with a train or some other means of transportation.

I wish manufacturers like Anker would look into this and work with Apple to support the proper profiles so iOS can detect my car as what it is: a car and thus let me use all the fancy features without having to spend money on a whole new stereo setup – which might be an issue depending on your car and its integration of the radio (Mini, I’m looking at you!). Maybe it’s finally time to invest into a third party CarPlay device though.